21 Jun 2011

Praisos #2

I was reading the latest post from Minoan Language Blog entitled Place-names on Cretan sealstones - A key to the decipherment of Minoan hieroglyphs? where in re of the artifact Praisos #2 the author observes: "Unfortunately there is no word separation; yet - if we follow van Effenterre's considerations - we can be almost sure that the word *inai was separate." This is a sound conclusion I can agree with given the likely division between two consecutive iotas. (For those unfamiliar with this artifact, please take a gaze Ray Brown's Eteocretan Language Pages from which I've borrowed the pictures below.)

A lack of word separation can be a source of headache for the would-be decipherer but it's common in ancient texts like this one. What could help is trying to deduce what are the likeliest rules of syllable structure and grammar this language might have had. For me, since I've strongly felt over the years that Eteocretan is related to Minoan and Etruscan, I'm guided by a generalized "Proto-Aegean" model of grammar and syllable structure. So let me explain what that is and how it leads me to separating the words as I do below.

Features of a common Proto-Aegean language family

As I've said before, I define a hypothetical ancestor of Minoan, Etruscan, Lemnian, Rhaetic, Eteocretan and Eteocypriot which I call Proto-Aegean. It would have been a fairly "syllabic" language (ie. no consonant clusters) with a mild stress accent lying by default on the initial syllable, although occasionally on the second. Judging by Etruscan alone, internal reconstruction affirms this conclusion about stress as it nicely explains the eventual development of initial clusters in Etruscan words that must have once had stress on the second syllable. I maintain there were no long vowels in its simple 5-vowel, V-shaped system consisting of *a, *e, *i, *o, and *u. Stops had no voice contrast and only a plain/aspirated distinction (ie. plain *t versus aspirated *tʰ). It had a default SOV word order.

Internal reconstruction also strongly suggests a Pre-Etruscan stage with the loss of word-final vowels (eg. Etruscan avil 'year' < *awilu). In Etrusco-Lemnian languages, there is an odd overabundance of word-final aspirated stops but this aspiration is explainable as a residue of the "whispered" word-final schwas as they disappeared beside word-medial plosives, eg. *ḳota 'four' > Etruscan huθ /hutʰ/. I also deduce that Proto-Aegean had certain grammatical features such as two tenses (unmarked present-future tense & a simple past in *-i) preceded optionally by modal markers like perfective *-ka (hence the perfective past *-ka-i becomes Etruscan -ce).

Enough! Let's parse and interpret!

So, long story short, based on considerations like the above, this is what I can currently pick out from this artifact:
[...]ona  desieme  tepimits  φa[...]
[...]do--iarala  φraisoi  inai[...]
[...]  restnm  tor  sar  doφ  sano
[...]satois  steφ  siatiun[...]
[...]anime  stepal  une  utat
[...]  sano  moselos  φraisona
[...]tsa  adoφ  tena
[...]ma  prainai  reri[...]
[...]irei  rerei  e[...]
[...]n   rirano[...]
The most certain word or word stem repeated in this document by far is φraiso, the city of Praisos from where this artifact derives. Based on Etruscan vocabulary and grammar, I offer the following possible connections that I can perceive:
desieme 'with sacrifice' (= Etr tesiame [PyrT 1.x])
φraisoi 'in Praisos' (= Etr -i [locative])
φraisona 'Praisian, of Praisos' (= Etr -na  [pertinentive])
restn-m 'then wine lees' (= Etr restm-c 'and lees' [TCort A.ii])
tor 'to give' (= Etr tur [LL 11.iv])
doφ 'oath' (= Etr θuφ)
sar 'ten' (= Etr śar [TCort ii])
utat '(it is) served, (it is) delivered' (= Etr  'to deliver' [LL 10.xiii])
une 'with libation' (= Etr une [LL 8.xvii])
tena '(they) present, (they) offer' (= Etr tena [CPer B.ii])
If my assigned values are even half on-track, it suggests that the topic of this artifact involves much the same as we might find on Etruscan stelae - a list of performed rites (presumably involving wine and lees, libations, oaths and animal sacrifice) performed in Praisos as a religious commemoration of a person, deity and/or event.

(2011 June 24) On Bayndor's advice, I corrected a typo that I'd copied and pasted from Ray Brown's website: *desime should be desieme and *tora should be tor. I've also changed the Etruscan comparandum for tor to reflect the newly apparent infinitive (ie. -a marks the present-future tense and an unmarked form represents an infinitive which has a meaning of 'to X' or 'X-ing' when translating into English).


  1. Great job there, Glen! I was unable to get any more past Phraisoi and Phraisona, but maybe there is much more that be learned from this stele. The ritual context is perfectly understandable: several other Eteocretan inscriptions from Dreros (some partially or fully bilingual) seem to invoke sacrifices, oaths and rituals. I do not know how far we can get with Etruscan parallels, but it is certainly worth a try.

    One tiny note, though: I have already noticed that Ray Brown's transcription contains some typos (since the facsimile is so clearly readable, you can check these yourself): For example, the word desime (if we separate it as such) is in fact desieme. Similarly, the word tora (line #3) would be simply tor, based on the artefact. But otherwise the reading is largely correct; it does not include dubious letters (such as the one after [.]do- in the second line, which might or might not have been a phi, c.f. adoph in line #7).

    Just one more question: Although you did not separate the term siatiun in line #4 (after the word steph[.] with all the typos corrected), could it have been siati un, possibly repeating the term un (that returns in line #5 as une)? Especially because there is a large space after this word (no [...]), implying a grammatic boundary.

  2. "For example, the word desime (if we separate it as such) is in fact desieme."

    Thanks! A million sets of eyes are better than one and you're correct. I'll fix these typos now. I was careless and blindly copied and pasted from the website. Whoops. Bad, Glen, bad! :o)

    "Although you did not separate the term siatiun in line #4 [...] could it have been siati un, [...]"

    Yes, this is possible. A form like siati is unobjectionable. Similar words exist in Etruscan like siiane [TCort 2.vi] and sianś [TLE 619], in fact.